Facing an Artistic Mid-Life Crisis Part III: The Art Awakens

It has been four months since Part II, where there was a flurry in accumulation of tools, books and some steps in actually drawing. I tried to draw whenever I could, whenever the opportunity arises, and this usually happens at meal times (while waiting for food), meetings (especially when someone else is presenting) or just snippets in-between times. I remember learning art history in sixth form at Portora, the story where a Edgar Degas asked Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres advice about becoming a better artist, and he famously said, “Draw lines, young man, many, many lines – it is in this way that you will become a good artist”. And draw many, many lines I did, in my Typo “Draw Something Everyday” sketchbook.

I started to like using the Faber Castell Pitt Artists Pen Size XS as it suited my brownian meandering sketching style, sometimes combining it with the grey shades as below:

drmadskeyslara

bojanroofflowers

I also went through a spell of drawing people, with a focus on my kids (and a portrait of the VC during the long hours of convo sesat in there somehow). The XS pen tend to favour organic drawings rather than objects, and the shadow lines/etchings work rather well with the fine strokes.

dariahafiqhadigames

dariahncatabangndariahsakina

While waiting for meals, I am currently going through a cups and teapot phase at the moment, whilst testing out brush-pen shading against line-shadows:

cup1tekoteatime

cup2cup3

Had also wanted to fulfill a life-long ambition of drawing comics but never really got started. So 3 months ago I made a feeble attempt at a start, bringing to life an old idea on a title called “Johan Dol“. More explained at the link, even started a whole wordpress site for it, but yet to update.

So thus is the final part of my artisitc journey revival, will update more on this through other relevant posts inshaaAllah.

Be well.

 

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Of Snakes and Ladders, and Dance

There was a time when kids used to spend their free time playing board games. Sometimes it was a whole family affair; at other times it was when friends came over on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It even used to be part of one’s repertoire of packed time-fillers when the family traveled. Games ranged from the four-cornered Ludo (didn’t everyone have their own favourite colours to start from?) to the strategic Battleship (particularly enjoyed the battery-operated version, complete with missile launch and explosion sounds) to the whodunits like Cluedo, and the empire-building Monopoly. I must say that the most complex board game I have ever played (once) was Poleconomy, a Monopoly-like game that swapped companies for properties and had a parallel political and capitalist actions. There was one particular game though which more often than not introduced kids to the whole concept of board games; it was none other than Snake and Ladders.

For many, Snakes and Ladders was probably the first board game they ever played, and one that most never say no too. Its simple mechanics would encourage anyone to start, and the gameplay gave a relatively equal chance for anyone to win. In addition, one could easily acquire it at the nearest mamak sundry or magazine shop. Many would have moved on to other more complex games, without knowing the rich background of this up and down game. I had earlier thought of the game as a good summary of one’s journey of faith without realising that the game itself was borne out of a spiritual context.

Reportedly Snakes and Ladders was born out of India, together with its dice-based siblings called  Gyan chauper and pachisi (present-day Ludo and Parcheesi). It was known as  Moksha Patam in ancient India and was associated with the Hindu and Jain philosophy which contrasts destiny and desire. The ladders represented positive virtues such as generosity, faith and humility, contrasted by those such as theft, anger and murder, symbolised by the snake. Salvation (Moksha) was achieved by doing good, whereas evil results in a rebirth to lower forms of life (and having to start at the lower rungs).

It may not be too far a stretch to bring this analogy to one’s spiritual progression in Islam. While the board game, normally in grids of 8×8, 9×9 or more often than not 10×10, is usually viewed in two dimensions, I had always imagined the game to be much more complex continuous three-dimensioned environment. This was due to the fact that if one were transported from square number 47 from the head of a snake to its tail at number 24 for a second time or after several ups and down, surely one was probably wiser and had a higher spiritual level than when one went through square number 24 for the first time.

The other aspect that would underline one’s attitude to life was how one moves from one square to another. Do you treat it like a sprint, front-loading all your good deeds but potentially burn out and change? Do you take a slow stroll, promising yourself that piety should be reserved for a later age once you have maxed-out your partying in the squares that you occupy right now? Do you take your time, studying the significance of the squares before you, and how it should impact your current and future squares? Or do you dance to and fro, treating all squares as your destined playground, moving to a beat resonant with all that is created, and therefore potentially also the rhythm of your Creator?

Another interesting analogy is also the dice. Without going into the whole fatalism and choice debate, and taking it into a more rudimentary level, how you throw is often a determinant in how the dice lands. Is the chance factor just the universe colluding (or itself having no other chance) to make what the Creator had pre-determined happen? Or does it even matter, for in the end we are accountable to how we react to the choices that are put before us, which may be understood as the real test. Did the Creator not say that whom He loves the most, would be the most tested?

Maybe it is because I am way into my fourth decade on this earth, and speedily approaching my fifth. I try to oscillate between the third and fourth way mentioned above – to study, and to dance. What is ecstasy without grounding, but a fleeting moment whose meaning dissipates with the wind? What is knowledge, if it does not permeate through one’s being, and where knowledge begins and being end is no longer defined, and in fact longer matters?

Is there any other way to live?

 

dance

Facing an Artistic Mid-Life Crisis Part II

So I had decided to fulfill a life-long ambition to draw comics. I haven’t drawn a line for years, and hardly remember whether I could. The last time I really drew was at my ‘A’ Levels era, under the tutelage of the late Douglas Hutton, both my art teacher as well as squash coach. Here’s some things I produced at the time:

terence

Ok, these were probably some of the best work I did at the time. On the left is the Terence Trent D’arby’s debut album cover, “Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby” done with the ubiquitous orange and black pen called the Biro. Must’ve taken me some 4 hours to do, undertaken on a rather cold winter night in my room at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen in 1989.

The legendary Biro

coverdaleThe second sketch which had survived the rigours of time was a pencil sketch of the then lead singer of Whitesnake, David Coverdale. Incidentally, I did go watch a Whitesnake concert some years later with him singing live.

This sketch also took ages, especially getting his hair right! Used quite a range of Derwent pencils too, and although I did spray-fix the drawing it still had a couple of smudges.

Ok, so those drawings were done over 27 years ago when I was drawing regularly. During my time as an architecture student at Catz in Cambridge I mostly did collages and isometrics, and cut-away sections which did not really involve drawing skills. So in order to restart my drawing fingers some quarter of a decade later, I did what any sane retired artist would do – I went shopping!

First, the tools. I wanted to start to learn how to do inking, which is the fundamental transitioning skills to turn penciled drawings into recognisable comics – inking. Inking was something that I had always feared, as many a fine pencil outline of mine had been summarily annihilated by my feeble inept attempts at inking them. So between chance encounters of the Faber Castell booth at the New Wing of One Utama, the expansive Art Friend on the upper echelons of the Curve, Damansara and a quick dash visit to Bangsar’s C-Zip Lee, I had procured the following items:

Faber Castell 4 Pitt Artist Pen – Manga Black Set

The set comprises felt nibs in sizes XS (very thin, good for detailing), S (best for drawing), F (good for outlines and emphasis) and B (brush nib which I have never used before and wanted to try). The featured image at the top of this post are depict the four pens and their line weights. I also purchased a Rotring Clutch pencil with a built-in sharpener (at the top of the cap).

For the paper I chose:

Daler Rowney Jumbo Heavyweight Cartridge Pad  -220g/m2

This was to be my testing paper – heavy enough to take watercolours and other medium. So immediately upon purchasing these, I did a Batman sketch whilst waiting for dessert at Franco’s, the Curve. The outlines looked OK until I tried inking – yikes!

batmansketchbatmaninked

Now I really knew I had a problem with inking. But before even looking into inking in detail, I knew I had to start drawing regularly, just to loosen my artistic muscles. I also needed to develop my own drawing style if I wanted to get some level of consistency. Then I remembered that during on of my visits to Nu Sentral, I had picked up a drawing journal called “Draw Something Everyday” at a cool shop called Typo. Now that would be a way to start, methinks.

It was really an A5 sized hardcover journal with various backgrounds intended to inspire putting ink (or pencil) to paper. I thought this would be a good trajectory to take, so the following sketches were produced:

nordic car finger gym bag car wash mak

While those sketches were being produced, I thought I would expand my repertoire of tools, just to go beyond the black pens. In particular, I had wanted to test brush pens to see their effect. There was, of course, another major factor that would influence what I buy – I was colour blind. So I would rather stick to earthen tones and greys, and I did find the following sets meeting my criteria:

So I had more tools at my disposal, but needed more guidance. In order to ensure I do not stray from the original intent of producing comics, I was looking for books that would help me sketch better, and ink better. God’s grace certainly shone through that day when I was rummaging through MPH at One Utama and came across 2 books that fit both criteria. The first being James Hobb’s “Sketch your World: Essential Techniques for Drawing on Location”, a guide that looks at various techniques and methods for drawing on-the-go, an imperative skill that I need to acquire if I were ever to rediscover and further develop my drawing chops. It even intersperses the chapters with profiles of featured artists, delving a little deeper on their particular methods. Heartily recommended, this book got a 4.5 stars rating on Amazon, and 5/5 at Barnes & Noble!

cbaThe other delightful find was John Paul Lowe’s “Foundations in Comic Book Art”. While not strictly a ‘how-to’ book nor is it a history of sequential art, this book manages to find an amazing balance of method and meaning, whilst using his own artwork as well as those from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) where he has been teaching for over 20 years. Whilst the composition and construction of objects may seem a tad overblown (although useful or those really starting with basics), his exposition on inking (hurray!) is extensive and instructive for a neophyte like moi. Touche! interestingly, this book also received the same ratings as the above!

Thus is the restart of my journey in rekindling old passions. I hope that my sharing may inspire you to explore your own artistic inclinations, and may it bring you the fulfillment that I am starting to experience. After all, according to a great artist,

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

Pablo Picasso

Facing an Artistic Mid-Life Crisis Part I

Bookshops have always instilled a sense of wistfulness and adventure every time anyone steps into one. It is almost impossible to pass by a bookshop without stopping, if only to browse, to look, to linger. One could even sense one’s IQ almost increasing by just being there. I am sure my Fitbit Charge HR records increased palpitations wrapped around serenity in the vicinity of tomes.

Art shops are different. One can not help feeling a sense of creative surge, a sense of endless possibilities waiting to be unleashed. Pencils, pens and paintbrushes seem to wobble as soon as eager hands get within touching distance, almost as if one had entered Ollivander’s Wand Shop in Diagon Alley, where each art instrument aches and shivers in anticipation of being within its destined master’s possession. Discernment in the feel of the trade tools, and the weight and surface of the designated paper (not unlike thread-count of bed sheets) is personal. If bookshops made one feel more intellectual, art shops made one regard oneself as infinitely creative.

Although in the past few weeks all of the feelings above were sparked by a visit to Art Friend at the Curve, Mutiara Damansara, the origin of that ignition was an event that happened at St. John’s Primary (1) 40 years ago. Towards the end of every school year students were normally required to fill in a card, updating general information about themselves. There was a field, though, that was probably the most subjective thing anyone would ever ask you throughout your entire life, which more often than not morphs into different forms and elicit different answers, depending on the stage of one’s life. The field, or word, was ambition.

I was in Standard One after all, and therefore the pressure to be a doctor, lawyer or accountant did not suffocate my answer as yet, unlike an SPM-bound 17 year old hormone-maxed student. At 7, most would be guileless, where the imperative would be what one would get for one’s next birthday, or what’s showing on the telly later. The answer would even be expected to be inconsequential, as it would probably change if the same question were to be asked next week, not even next year. So with aplomb, and a total lack of commitment (or maybe even full, hard to tell right now), my seven year-old self answered what made sense at that time. The answer was two straightforward words: comic artist.

In the mid-seventies, comics in Malaysia were sold at newsagents and mamak grocery shops, often affixed to a suspended cotton or nylon rope with a wooden or stainless steel peg perched way above a 7-year old’s head. Sometimes it would get delivered to the home by the newspaper delivery guy, often wearing and off-centre motorcycle helmet aboard a kapchai, expertly throwing rubber-band-bound bundles of pre-ordered newspapers with unflinching accuracy into rain-safe nooks in close proximity to the front door. The world of Dandy and Beano, or the diminutive war or silat comics, were standard fare at the time. Occasionally, one would get a glimpse of a broadsheet Conan issue, and much later a 2000 AD, amidst SHOOT magazines and newspapers. What had really caught my fancy, though, and stayed as an effective bribe for me to go to the dentist, was American superhero comics.

The American superhero comics, mainly from DC and Marvel, were of approximately the same dimensions today as they were 40 years ago. The white box at the bottom left or right, which today indicates whether the comic was obtained from normal retail channels or specialty shops, was filled with bar codes as it was from the former. There were no dedicated comic shops at the time till maybe the late 80’s or early 90’s. The form felt comfortable to a 7 year old, or even a 47 year old today. X-Men, Superman, Aquaman and the Avengers ruled the roost. Hardcover Annuals were coveted and sometimes gleefully received as birthday presents.

Among the attractions of the American superhero comics was its temporal continuity, and one would await the next issue with bated breath only to be satisfied (and again tensely awaiting) a month or two later. They were also a tool for me to further learn English vocabulary; one particular episode of the Avengers, where the Vision was saved by another less-memorable character, I had learnt phrase “to be in one’s debt”, uttered by the former to the latter. Had to go to my father to get an explanation of that one, and the meaning stuck hard in my mind, especially when accompanied with the visual reinforcement.

But it was that reinforcement, wonderfully visual, that stayed with me the most. Whilst distinct panels contained the artwork, the panels did not stay uniform, contextually reforming like a storytelling ether-chameleon, where words and art danced to depict a story whose pace was half in control of the producer, and the other half by the reader. While the composition of views of bodies and surroundings uncovers the narrative(s), it was the inking and colouring that lent it emotion and motion, superiority and/or utmost insignificance. Jack Kirby and Neal Adams led the way for me, to be joined by later giants as John Romita Jr, Brian Bolland and the ambidextrous writer-artist combination of the brooding world of Frank Miller, the delightful yet scary world of Bone by Jeff Smith or the insane multi-media stylistics of Bill Sienkiwicz and later Dave McKean. These artists, and who had every right to be called Artists, made my world. At the time, for a time.

Fast forward 40 years. I am in my 10th job, having experienced various fairly diverse industries, yet none close to what my 7 year old self had opined. During a conversation with my second-born, when talking about ‘ambition when one grows up’ (have I even grown up?), he further quizzed me on why I have not fulfilled my ambition. When I thought about it, I then asked myself, why not indeed?

Part II deals with what comes next.

(This blog post, minus these bracketed words, is eerily 1000 words exactly, again.)

Face, empty space

Face, empty space